Other people’s blessings

I’ve had to remind myself, over and over again, that couples who really do love NFP aren’t just lying. The “Oh, how I love the monthly cycle of courtship and honeymoon!” crowd haven’t drunk any Kool-Aid. They’re not necessarily undersexed, brainwashed saps who have never encountered true suffering.

 

They’re just different from me, and if I expect them to respect my struggles, then I need to learn to respect their joy.

Read the rest at the Register. 

Love, Blame and Hope in the Movie MUD

PIC Mud poster

This movie wasn’t about what is wrong with women, or what is wrong with men. It was more about how difficult love is, and how little it helps when we lie to ourselves. It was a sorrowful movie, but not a depressing one; and it left lots of room for at least some of the characters to learn from their suffering and to forgive the people who failed them. Yes, the snakes that have been waiting will get you in the end. No, you will not die. But don’t let yourself get bitten again — unless it’s for someone you love. And around it goes, and the sun keeps shining off the open waters ahead.

Read the rest at the Register.

What About Behavioral and Spiritual Arguments Against Vaccines?

PIC vaccine

As we can see from Tuesday’s post and the response to it, it’s not necessarily clear what we mean when we say “science” or “medicine.” So let’s put science and medicine aside entirely for a moment, and let’s focus on two arguments against vaccines that I keep hearing — arguments which don’t appeal to science at all, but which are spiritual and behavioral.

Read the rest at the Register.   Note: any snark, condescension, lack of charity, arrogance, self-pity, logical fallacies or otherwise insufferable behavior in this post is unintentional. If you think I’ve missed the mark, please pray for me and respond with as much kindness as you can, because I really am trying here.

Don’t be a sex sponge.

Most women bloggers have a loyal reader and commenter who can be described as “Issues Guy.”  Like a dog has fleas, he’s got issues with women — and man, do they bite.

My Issues Guy put himself right in the middle of this post on idolatry, in a tangential combox conversation which turned out to be far more interesting than the post itself  (even though the post itself had “foreskin” in the title!). Issues Guy described his perfect potential wife and marriage thus:

The Plan
Find a woman who:
•wants to/is willing to have sex all the time
•wants to be 100% submissive in a way that feels natural
•wants to/is willing to have all the kids I can give her

It’s a simple three-point plan. Not sure how hard it would be to execute.

In return I will:
•treat her like a middle school girl (which women seem to like no matter what they may say) alternating with treating her like an adult which they admittedly also seem to like.
•work till I black out if necessary
•let her read to me

It’s a perfect plan.

Ouchie, the issues!  A married man tried to correct him, saying,

 Your description of marriage as a contract with its focus on sexual gratification of the man exposes a deep seated fear of intimacy and completely misses the root of our Church Tradition … So you will be physically faithful to one woman. Big shit. So was Hitler.

[…]

As a sacramental vocation, I have experienced that marriage helps me to be a better person ONLY when I am actively engaged in all aspects of our lives. When I slack off and choose to only live my vows by “working until I blackout” it is a sham. And when in such denial, my heart has been clouded from receiving love from any source.

Issues Man responded:

Sex as the foundation of marriage isn’t an error, it’s natural law. That’s why sex is considered the consummation of the sacrament and why people of the same sex can’t marry each other.

Really this whole controversy boils down to a wife’s duty to have sex with her husband.

A few people tried to respond to him, but here is the reply that really lit up my female brain:

The expectation that someone should be available “all the time” speaks to little to no understanding of how important sex really is.

Ding ding! Issues Guy thought that, because he wants and needs sex all the time, he alone understands how important it is; but in fact, it shows how unimportant he imagines sex to be. It shows how little he understands it.

Imagine if someone said, “Most people settle for three-minute pop songs, but I am different. I appreciate the beauty of Beethoven. Therefore, I will put the fourth movement of his ninth symphony on repeat, and will listen to it over and over again at top volume for the rest of my life.”

That would be weird, right? Someone who wants that is someone who maybe started out actually loving music, but his natural desire for its beauty and depth has turned into . . . something else. Something that ruins Beethoven.

Or imagine a child who is presented with a chocolate cake for his first birthday. He’s so excited that, while he does manage to get some of it into his mouth, he also smears it in his hair, squishes it between his fingers, slathers it all over his skin and clothes.

PIC baby massacring cake

 

 

You wouldn’t look at a kid like this and say, “Wow, here is a true gourmet! Unlike the rest of us, who eat three meals a day, he truly understands how important food is.” No, you’d say, “Ha, he doesn’t know any better. Someone get a towel.”

Why is this? Well, when something is profound, we don’t enjoy it best when we wallow in it. We’re not sponges, just an undifferentiated blob of strung-together holes designed for soaking. Someone who soaks, someone who wallows — this is not someone who understands. This is someone who has traded understanding for consumption.

It is the same with sex.  The “want/need/have-to-have/gimme-more-now-now-now” model of sexuality is a sad and poor and foolish one. Yes, we have needs — but we are more than the sum of our needs. We are not made to wallow. When we understand that something is important, we use some discernment, some restraint, or at very least some careful timing.

Now, these analogies — music, food — are useful to explain what is grotesque about the “want/need/must-not-be-denied” attitude . . . but only up to a point. It is true that there is such a thing as too much Beethoven or too much chocolate cake, and that people who yearn for nonstop saturation don’t truly love what they say they love.

But that’s not the only problem, when we’re talking about sex. It’s not just that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. It’s that sex doesn’t mean anything at all when it’s not an expression of a relationship.

Food and music have some element of this need for relationships. It’s nicer when we enoy music together, and it’s a happier day when we can share a feast with someone else. But if we do enjoy these things alone — if we are carried out of ourselves, out and away from the crowded concert hall on a solitary musical wave,  or if we close our eyes in bliss as we taste a spoonful of something exquisite, something we do not have to share?

PIC woman tasting spoon

 

 

This is fine. This is great. This is normal, and nice, and good.

But sex is different. Sex is only meaningful because it is part of a relationship. This is true of sex every single time, no matter who you are, what your circumstances, what your  needs, what your wants, what your desires, what your issues. Sex is about two people, always. “You give it to me” is not a relationship. If you’re thinking of sex as something that you do and the other person must let you do, then you are not really thinking about sex. You’re thinking about holes that need filling. You are being a hole that needs filling. You are being a sponge.

PIC flabby sponge

 

The comments I quoted above came about as a tangent to the central conversation — but come to think about it, they’re right on target. I said that idolatry is when we

replace God with something smaller and easier to manage — and devote your life to serving that, instead.

And there we are. Sex is not small, and it is not easy to manage. It is a vast ocean. One way that we can make it manageable is, paradoxically, to wallow in it — to become an undifferentiated, undifferentiating mass of saturated holes. It is easier this way. Sponges don’t care about tides, or storms, or seasons, or night or day. Some of them don’t even need another sponge to reproduce. They just witlessly bud, and add to themselves more holes to be filled.

Do not, o thou man, be a sponge. Be better. Struggle, suffer, give yourself over to a world of thirst and desire, conflict and deep joy.

Struggle, learn, suffer, love, and be better than a sponge.

 

******

You know that Extraordinary Bishops’ Synod on the Family coming up in October? The Patheos Catholic Channel will be posting a rolling symposium covering all sorts of topics relevant to the Synod. I’m tagging this post #synod and #symposium because it’s about sex, and sex is relevant to everything! Right? Yes?
Anyway, many of my fellow bloggers, many of whom are capable of thinking of things other than sex, are posting clear, insightful, entertaining posts. The Catholic Patheos Synod Symposium Landing Page is already full of great posts, and is being updated regularly. You may not be familiar with some of the fine writers who contribute to the Patheos Catholic Channel. Browse around! We’re an amazingly varied bunch.

Great article about Catholics and depression

Michael J. Lichens contributes a guest post to The Catholic Gentleman: Black Dog Days: How to Deal With Depression.  It’s sympathetic but not squishy, practical, realistic, and humble. Great read for anyone who is suffering through depression.  An excerpt:

Prayer is very hard when you are depressed. I, for one, have nagging doubts when I go through my black dog days. God seems silent and I wonder where He is and what He’s doing. All the same, I do pray, and peace eventually comes. In one case, it took me two years of praying, but peace did come. Mother Teresa’s dark night of the soul lasted several years, but she endured. You can find strength in the same faith.

If you are praying and meditating and the words do not come, then sit in silence. Find an icon or an adoration chapel and utter the words, “You are God, I am not. Please help.” If nothing else, your mind will slow down and will shift its focus to God, who sustains all life and is the source of our strength.

I know this is hard, and sometimes you will want to give up. If you can do nothing else, try to take comfort in knowing that Christ didn’t die and rise again just to leave you alone. Find the saints who did suffer from grief and depression and ask them for help. They, more than any other, are eager to come to your aid.

Read the rest here.

At the Register: True Suffering Isn’t Photogenic

Don’t add pain to pain by expecting it to “hurt so good.”

PIC emo tears and mascara

The Dreadmill

That’s what my kids call my treadmill.  Today, the dreadmill and I discovered an unexpected advantage to living in an old house:  you can quickly, easily,unintentionally intensify your workout significantly by moving from the mostly-level living room into what turns out to be the ridiculously uphill dining room.

PIC calves burning

 

Yarr. I’ve had this treadmill for about a month now, and by gum, I am using it.  I don’t own a scale, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t lost weight; but that wasn’t my immediate goal (even though I am most certainly too fat, and not just in a “Oh, my wife says she’s fat” way but seriously, I’m a fatty). My immediate goal was to get off the damn couch, and get to a point where I don’t look terrible, feel terrible, feel like I look terrible, and look like I feel terrible all the time.

And I am there!  I do a half hour minimum, five days a week, 3.5 miles per hour minimum, and I “punch the invisible man,” as my kids call it, for at least part of the time.  (I know food is a big component of health and weight loss, and I’m making changes there, too.)

So, I have more energy, I think I’m less moody and more optimistic, I’m sleeping better, and I have bruises all over the back of my hands because I keep whacking them on the treadmill handrails.  Overall, net win.  There are plenty of other workouts I could be doing, but this is the one I am doing, and I don’t see why I would stop doing it.  As with so many other things in life, it’s working because I’m being consistent.  I’m hoping to be in good enough shape by spring to be exercising to the point of weight loss

Best workout album so far:  Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere. It’s not just the beat, which is pretty brisk on most songs; it’s the atmosphere of “let’s revel delightfully in this sweaty misery” which I find motivating.  What an amazing album. It should be written up as a case study of the intelligent, self-aware, artistic patient self-medicating for severe depression.  Boy, that doesn’t make it sound like much fun. But it is fun!

Looking for a good song to excerpt, I came across this live version of “Transformer.”  Holy wow, what a voice:

The Pogues are also pretty good for a strong beat and a sensation that we’re all just suffering bastards here, so why not get a little sweatier?

Also, I have tried all the ear buds in the house, which includes every brand from Dollar Tree to Mac, and they all fall out of my ears. Finally broke down and bought my own, which are JVC Gumy Inner Ear headphones, and they don’t fall out. The sound is fine.  I can barely hear what is going on around me, which is a little alarming, but if that’s what you want, these do a good job, and are cheap.

Mrs. Stupid is kind of enjoying her stupid exercise. Didn’t see that coming, did you?

An unthinkable story of love

Devin Rose has written a harrowing account of their adoption story.  It begins,

Several years ago we adopted three children. We are no longer their parents. This is the story of what happened.

Everyone should read this.  Everyone.  It is so important.  It’s not only about adoption, it’s about making decisions in love.  God bless Devin and Katie and all of the children they love and care for.  I am so grateful to them for having the courage to express these dreadful truths so clearly.

 

Catholic Digest: Pro-life Even at the End of Life

Oops, just realized I have a second article in the latest edition of Catholic Digest.  Do get your hands on this one if you can!  The strength and clarity of the people I interviewed is just astonishing. I wish I had had enough space to include all of what they had to say about making end-of-life decisions for the people they love.

I wrote about the experience of tackling this harrowing subject in a post called “Bright Wings.”  I’m just going to reprint it here (it ran first in the Register on Jan. 17, 2013), because it dovetails so nicely with Thursday’s Bigger on the Inside post.

****

I’m writing an article for Catholic Digest about end-of-life issues.  To be more precise, I’m finally writing this article.  I was putting it off because (a) I’m lazy, (b) it involved conducting interviews, and I get very nervous talking on the phone, (c) it seemed like a depressing topic, (d) I was petrified of getting some detail wrong, leading readers astray, and causing the needless deaths of countless helpless grandmas, and most of all because (e) I was scared.  Scared of finding out exactly what the Church actually teaches.

I knew the secular ideas of Church teaching were wrong.  I knew that the Church is not cruel or heartless, and I knew that her teachings are derived from hundreds of years of rigorous scholarship, and are guided by the Holy Spirit.  I knew that sometimes people suffer needlessly because people misunderstand Church teaching.

But I also knew, without even realizing I was thinking this way, that what God wanted from us was awful.  Or, in the older sense, awe-ful.  Scary, hard, intractable, too much to bear.  Without realizing I was thinking this way, I thought I’d have to massage the facts into something more palatable for the general public, so as not to scare people away from fidelity to the Church.

Yep, I thought God would need my help.

I did five interviews in three days, I read the catechism, I looked up the relevant documents, and I got some clarification from Rich Doerflinger.  I did my research with the same internal posture as I take on externally when I’m watching a horror movie that everybody says is really, really good and I shouldn’t miss:  I was tense, defensive, ready to cover my eyes as the hero slo-o-o-o-owly opens the door to see what’s inside the creepy old shack in the woods.

So, I opened the door. I found out what the Church really says about end-of-life issues — how to make the decisions, how to care for people, how to do your best to strike the balance between letting technology do its job and letting nature take its course.

Guess what the Church teaches?  God loves you.  He loves life.  He has life to share, and He shares the light of His eternal life by sending the Church as a support when we are weak.  He sends the Holy Spirit into the ICU and the NICU with the respirators and dialysis machines, into the womb that holds the anencephalic child, into the hospice room with the 80-pound man who no longer wants or needs to eat.

And because He is a God who loves, He is a God who grieves — not only for the sick and the dying, but for the living, who have to carry the burden of their decisions after sitting up night after night without sleeping, without a change of clothes, without knowing clearly if they are causing pain or bringing relief to the ones they love.  That every life is valuable, and that includes the lives of caregivers.  He enlightens the minds of nurses.  He strengthens the hearts of parents.  He brings clarity to grown children.  And He grieves.

What I learned is that the Church teaches, “God loves you, God loves you, God loves you.”  Always and forever, in the darkness of doubt, and in the light of the truth.  This is what is at the heart of all the teachings of the Church; this is what we will always see when we force ourselves to uncover our eyes and watch the story as it unfolds:

And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.